We all know the real meaning of that coy slogan about what happens in Vegas. It really means that what stays in Vegas is your money. It should read: “To play in Vegas, you gotta pay in Vegas.”
The early January auctions in the desert have become an annual pilgrimage in the last 20 years. Now condensed to two major houses, Bonhams and Mecum, the events draw sellers, buyers and the just plain curious from across the country and the world. This year nearly a thousand motorcycles were up for bid, and most of them sold – many at fair prices, and some at stupefying sums. But as they say, value is simply what someone is willing to pay.
Las Vegas is clearly the costume capital of America, and even the most outrageous outfits are considered routine. Revealing is the word most often used regarding cocktail waitresses in the casinos, and, much like the rise in collectible motorcycle prices, the cleavage contest at these auctions has risen accordingly. Some amazing examples of anatomical engineering are common.
The venerable Bonhams auction is conducted in traditional British style, at a leisurely pace by American standards, and held at Bally’s Hotel and Casino on the strip. The restored 1942 Harley-Davidson WLA military model brought $24,725. The 1950 Vincent White Shadow on the left was a tad higher, at $224,250.
On the other hand, the casinos have fallen far behind the curve in terms of catering to the growing number of beer enthusiasts. They could do much better by elevating the beer selection. Just sayin’.
The big Kahuna at Bonhams was the 1938 Brough Superior SS100 on the dais. The bidding reached $280,000. When you tack on the 15% commission on the first $100K, 10% of the balance, and 8% California sales tax … that’s quite a dip in the old cookie jar, and the bike still didn’t make reserve. The 1950 Series C Black Shadow of former Vincent maven Sid Biberman sold for $112,700, and another C Shadow barn-find brought $103,500. A 1961 Francis Beart Norton Manx ridden by Jimmy Guthrie sold for $75,900.
All told, more than four million bucks changed hands at the Bonhams auction. Prices in general were up, with the better Triumph Twins rising again after flattening a few years ago. Relative bargains were still available on Nortons, BSAs and various Japanese models.
“With a full salesroom and positive buzz throughout the duration, the internationally attended auction saw many motorcycles bought by global collectors,” said auctioneer Malcolm Barber. “Bonhams continues to show year-on-year growth in the market of collectors’ motorcycles here in the U.S.”
Full auction results are available at Bonhams.com. Stay tuned for our report from the even larger and more varietal Mecum auction held across town. In the meantime, scroll down to see samplings from the Bonhams auction and some of the stories behind them.
This 1964 Parilla 250 Grand Sport was shy of concours standards, but went to a new home for $7,475. Small-bore Italian bikes have grown in popularity and price, which as ever depends on condition and availability.
The Henderson Four stands among the most revered of early American machines. This one went for $41,400.
Collector Urban Hirsch favors the billboard style shirt. The previous day his denim garment bore the legend, MY MOTHER WAS A TRAVEL AGENT FOR GUILT TRIPS. Style never goes out of fashion.
Former World Motocross Champion Brad Lackey was crisply dressed, while collector and vintage racer Fred Mork favored the casual look.
Ducatis of every generation were represented in Vegas. This 1979 900SS from a European Superbike team sold for $25,012.
Three Honda RC30s were on offer between the two auctions. This low-mile 1990 model brought a phone bidding war between buyers in the UK and Australia. The Brit prevailed, setting a new world record for the model at $52,900.
Vincent values cover a broad span of the range of models and condition. This Rapide with a Black Shadow-spec engine heard the gavel at $47,150.
This 1954 Vincent Black Prince prototype fell short of its projected $250,000 range. Another one sold for $79,350.
Some motorcycles just look right. And some that handle wonderfully and make great sounds look even better. The AJS 7R and the Norton Manx share that domain among old racers and wannabeens. This 1956 model went for $57,500. Nostalgia ain’t cheap.
The Matchless G50 falls into the same category. This ex-Dick Mann edition from 1962 was sold for $115,000, which allowed the owner to pay off his house mortgage and simultaneously maintain his motorcycle habit.
Even though Peugeot gave up motorcycles for cars long ago, their products still draw attention from collectors. This 1911 Moto Legere 350 Twin sold for $26,450.
Texan Herb Harris has long been one of the prominent preservationists among fans of British motorcycles. This Brough Superior with a Watsonian sidecar was sold for $115,000.
Another offering from the Harris collection was this 1949 Vincent Rapide with electric
start and a Blacknell Bullet sidecar. The gavel dropped at $126,500.
And yet another listing from the Harris stable was a 1956 Ariel Square Four, among the last of the marque, with a Watsonian sidecar. It sold for $50,600.
Not all the Italian exotics on offer at the Bonhams auction were prohibitively expensive. This 1974 Laverda Jota sold for $6,325.
On the other hand, early Ducati production racers continue to ascend in the hen’s teeth category. The 1959 175cc F3, which once resided in the Guy Webster collection, was sold by a more recent owner for $89,700.
From the same era, albeit considerably lower on the economic scale, a 1959 Ducati 85 Sport, with the prized jelly-mold tank, sold for $8,625.
Listed as a 1974 Ducati 750 GT Cafe Special (i.e. bitsa), this mix-and-match of various components and a mono-shock swingarm, was likely to provide its new owner a fun ride. It sold for $16,100.
One more entry for the Italophiles. Not pristine but mostly original and correct, this 1977 900SS Imola brought $36,800. The so-called square-case bevel-drives continue to elevate in value. There are even murmurs in Bologna of making replacement parts.
The supply of ex-Steve McQueen motorcycles has yet to be exhausted. This 1912 Harley-Davidson X8E Big Twin went to a new home for $117,300. Built to challenge the recent Isle of Man-winning Indians, the 8-horsepower 989cc Twin featured a clutch, ball bearing crankshaft and roller bearings carrying the rods. The high-performance era had begun.
Milwaukee’s official factory racing effort was history by the time Tom Sifton came along. But in the Thirties the San Jose dealer’s tuning skills kept the Harleys competitive in Class C racing, and were largely responsible for the racing WR models in the Forties.
For something completely different in the sidehack realm, the 1942 Zundapp 750 military rig was projected in the $45K range but didn’t get there.
The machine gun mounted on the chair would likely draw the attention of the local constabulary.
The ex-Al Gunter ’57 BSA Gold Star was projected at $30-40K, but bidding fell short
The 1950 Ducati Snort, make that Sport, was expected to bring $4-5K. It sold for $10,120.
The 60cc tiddler was a popular conveyance in post-war Italy.
A nicely turned out 1970 Honda CB750 brought $18,400.
The ’93 Ducati Supermono, one of 67 built for Singles racing, was posted for $150,000. No sale.
A tidy Triumph 750 street tracker went for $24,450.